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4 April 2004, 1:02 am
The two best teams in Europe never to have won the Heineken Cup - Munster and Stade Francais - should provide a cup tie to savour at Thomond Park this evening, in a quarter-final with great potential.
The two best teams in Europe never to have won the Heineken Cup - Munster and Stade Francais - should provide a cup tie to savour at Thomond Park this evening, in a quarter-final of rich potential and interest.

Munster will not want to repeat the misfortune of the Llanelli Scarlets who were sent crashing out of Europe by Biarritz last night in Stradey Park.

Munster & Stade Francais have met three times in the knock-out stages of Europe's premier competition with Munster winning twice in the quarter-finals and Stade sneaking a 16-15 semi-final win over the Irish side three years ago.

That was the renowned occasion, before the video ref was introduced, when Munster wing John O'Neill touched down in the corner before hitting the touch flag but was denied a legitimate try by referee Chris White. If you look long enough and hard enough you can, just occasionally, find a pub in Limerick that has not got a wall poster depicting the try that never was. It still rankles in these parts.

The Munster team, however, have gone from strength to strength. There were those who felt that the retirement of Mick Galwey and Peter Clohessy and the return of Keith Wood to England would see a decline in fortunes, but not a bit of it. Today they will be playing for a fifth consecutive semi-final place in Europe's Premier competition. And, nine years into the competition, they have yet to lose at Thomond Park.

Under the astute captaincy of former Wallaby Jim Williams a new generation is coming to the fore, the likes of Paul O'Connell, Donncha O'Callagahan and Marcus Horan while players such as Peter Stringer, Ronan O'Gara, John Hayes and David Wallace are entering their prime years.

The exciting X-factor this evening should be the re-emergence of Christian Cullen into big-time rugby. The former All Black, who has only just turned 28, is the leading all-time try scorer in the Super 12 with 56 and has a phenomenal strike rate of 46 tries in 56 Tests for New Zealand.

After falling foul of the John Mitchell regime and missing the World Cup, he travelled to Munster in the late autumn but immediately required surgery on a shoulder injury incurred in the National Provincial Championship final. With only five Celtic League games under his belt Cullen is still a little short of preparation but he remains a big match player and this will be his kind of occasion.

Munster Team to Face Stade Francais:

Christian Cullen, John Kelly, Mike Mullins, Rob Henderson, Shaun Payne, Ronan O'Gara, Peter Stringer, Marcus Horan, Frankie Sheahan, John Hayes, Donncha O'Callaghan, Paul O'Connell, Jim Williams, David Wallace, Anthony Foley.

Replacements: Jerry Flanery, Gordon McIlWham, David Pusey, Stephen Keogh, Eoin Reddan, Jason Holland, Anthony Horgan.

Stade Francais:

Ignacio Corleto; Thomas Lombard, Juan Hernandez, Brian Liebenberg, Christophe Dominici; Diego Dominguez, Gregory Mahe; Pierre Rabadan, Remy Martin, Patrick Tabacco, Mike James, David Auradou (capt), Pieter De Villiers, Benoit August, Sylvain Marconnet.

Replacements: Mathieu Blin, Pablo Lemoine, Arnaud Marchois, Christophe Moni, Raphael Poulain/Stephane Glas, David Skrela, Ian Vass.

MUNSTER v STADE FRANCAIS Heineken Cup Quarter Final

Venue: Thomond Park. Kick Off: 5pm. Date: Saturday April 10th. TV Coverage: Network 2 & Sky Sports 3.

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